In challenging business environments, we look to our leaders for guidance. We want them to project calmness and confidence and provide clarity and vision. But we seldom consider the emotional and possibly physical pressure they must endure to be steadfast in times of challenge.
I want to share this story from one of my clients which demonstrates how refocusing on your values and prioritizing mindfulness can help you weather volatility, and to stay present and courageous through times of change. To protect my client’s identity, we will call her Anna.
Anna is the General Manager of a leading marketing agency. Her industry overall is facing pressure: competition is increasing, and margins are thinning. As other senior leaders departed, Anna stepped into a new role and took responsibility to navigate her company towards growth.
With this new mandate in mind, Anna threw herself into the many priorities and tasks that came her way. She believed it was important to be seen as strong and confident, and that meant not seeking help even when she was uncertain or needed support. Also, because she felt that a good leader needed to be accountable, she took every one of the company’s setbacks and her failures at work personally.
The impact was that Anna started to suffer from increased anxiety. She couldn’t sleep at night and would feel dizzy and sick during the day. As she felt worse and worse, she continued to hide how she was feeling from others around her and handled all the challenges by herself. Her anxiety made her feel even more terrible: that if she was feeling this way, it proved that she wasn’t a true leader and wasn’t up to scratch.
Most critically, Anna’s team was also performing badly. She felt trapped: she knew she couldn’t continue this way, but the constant stress made it difficult for her to get any clarity.
Anna came to one of my workshops where we used the Integral Growth model to help leaders define their purpose and values in life and build a clear vision of how to lead an integrated and fulfilled life.
The first shift Anna experienced was realizing she had lost sight of her values. Through the workshop, she was able to dig deep to define her personal values, and articulate the behaviors needed to live and lead with those values. She discovered what was truly important to her: her courage, trust and compassion. She was reminded of the importance to have self-compassion, and the courage to trust in herself and others. Whereas in the past she had tied her self-worth to external validation, she now realized that she already had the inner strength to succeed.
The second shift was recognizing the importance of centering. When Anna sat down to do her first meditation, focusing on her breath and her breath alone; for the first time she started to slow down. She shifted from being solely focused on the environment to focus on herself and her body, and how to slow down in times of stress.
The third shift was realizing she had to give herself permission to fail and to feel. She had been suppressing her feelings, holding it all in, and hadn’t been able to process her fear of uncertainty. She needed to tell herself that it was okay to be afraid, it was okay to fail: these are normal parts of change and leadership. Failure is part of learning. Anna shifted from holding onto the belief that a leader must be perfect, to realizing that it was OK to be vulnerable, and it was courageous to ask for help.
As a result of the workshop, Anna has focused on reframing her attitude through centering. Instead of telling herself that a good leader does everything by themselves, she tells herself good leaders are those who can effectively marshal support in pursuit of the company’s goals. She has given herself permission not to be perfect, which makes her more relatable and accessible to her team.
Anna’s renewed focus on her core values has given her emotional resilience through times of stress. She is more mindful of her need to control outcomes, and challenges herself to celebrate her achievements and as well as the unique strengths she brings to her organization. She has the courage now to be herself and face challenges as they come, detached from unnecessary worries about how she may be perceived.
My Personal Note
For all of you out there struggling to lead in these volatile times, you may feel uneasy, out of touch, restless and discontented. Remember Anna’s story: turn back to your values and ask yourself whether you are living them. Re-examine how you think, how you speak and how you behave, and identify where you are out of step with what you truly value.
Do not feel like you have to operate alone: ask for support – you will be surprised how many people are there for you. Have the courage to be who you are: there is only one person who can lead like you, and by hiding that light you are depriving yourself and your workforce of your unique strengths and perspectives.
This is the first story in my new year series “Stories of Integral Growth”, where I take you inside my coaching process. Wherever you are in your leadership journey, I hope that these stories speak to you and inspire you. If you would like to have it delivered to you, sign up for my newsletter here.